T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)


Author : Mrs. Tamari Cheishvili

Dante’s Perception in T. S. Eliot’s Essay “Dante”

T. S. Eliot starts his 1929 essay on Dante with criticizing Paul Valèry’s notion that “philosophical” poetry, once permissible, is now intolerable. The essay is focused on the reader’s particular mode of perceiving poetic text. Eliot argues that the reader may or may not share the author’s beliefs and views. It makes no difference to the aesthetic effect. On the other hand, the reader must gain deep insight into the author’s concepts and ideas, whether philosophical or otherwise, as far as they have become indispensable elements of emotional structure. In other words, Eliot maintains that ‘a poetic element’ and ‘a philosophical element’ cannot be isolated because the ‘philosophy is essential to the structure and structure is essential to the poetic beauty of the parts’...
T. S. Eliot distinguishes between ‘the effort of the philosopher proper’ and ‘the effort of the poet’ but he doesn’t deny altogether that poetry can be in some sense philosophic. To him Dante’s ‘poetry’ and Dante’s ‘teaching’ are inseparable because the philosophy is an ingredient, it is a part of Dante’s artistic world. ‘Good philosophy’ doesn’t make a good poem but the philosophy might be employed in a different form from that which it takes in admittedly unsuccessful philosophical poems. Dante deals with his philosophy not as a theory to be approved or rejected; he neither believes nor disbelieves in the ideas expressed in his poems; Dante just uses them as cornerstones for ‘building’ a balanced and ordered intellectual-emotional complex, i.e. strictly organized aesthetic system in which each part (fragment, passage or episode etc.) can be fully apprehended only in its relation to other parts and the whole.

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